Out today, and open access: Of greengrocers, sports commentators, estate agents and television presenters: who’s in a usage guide and why, published in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.
With thanks to Olivia Walsh for organising the symposium In the Shadow of the Standard in Nottingham, in September 2018.
Another piece from the UK Guardian on how the Apostrophe Protection Society has finally given up the unequal struggle!
Never thought I’d ever read anything by an influencer (a word not yet in the OED, but a very popular type of online presence these days): Noor de Groot’s Queen of Jetlags (2019). It is not that the book is written by the daughter of an old school friend of mine, but because I was curious to find out why an influencer with 720k followers on Instagram would want to publish a book.
The book is (mostly) in Dutch, and describes Noor’s life and highly succesful career in what would seem to be full authentic (another key word these days) detail, beautifully illustrated with pictures evoking the dreamy atmosphere that is her trademark.
As a phenomenon, Queen of Jetlags reminds me of Grammar Girl, a language advice website with a phenomenal following, too. And yet, Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s author, published a book with language advice as well. Books, it seems, apparently deserve a life of their own besides their contents’ presence online .
Another similarity between the two which I find fascinating is how Noor de Groot outlines in full detail how she became an influencer, showing all the tricks and trades of the job as she goes along. A short while ago, Mignon Fogarty obtained a chair in Media Entrepreneurship at the Reynolds School of Journalism of the University of Nevada, thus – presumably – teaching her students the ins and outs of her job as well. Competition does not seem to be an issue here, for either of them. What Noor’s book shows, after all, is that being an influencer, or rather becoming one and making sure that you stay top of the bill, is a professon in its own right. And, I must admit, I admire her for that.
If you’re interested in prescriptivism, you might well want to read this recently published novel. It’s about twins who gradually grow apart, with the one thing binding them to the end being an old copy of a dictionary, probably by Samuel Johnson, though they can only have it each to themselves 6 months at a time.
While the one twin turns into a poet, the other becomes a copy editor, whose focus is linguistic correctness: they couldn’t be further apart in the linguistic interests they develop over the years. There is a lot there for readers interested in prescriptivism: Fowler is referred to several times (though I wouldn’t have called Fowler’s Modern English Usage “an old grammar book”, p. 194: usage guides are not grammars), and many usage problems fly by, like the dangling participle, the split infinitive, the placement of only, the use of who/whom, and singular they – stuff we, linguists, don’t expect to find playing such a major role in a novel but love reading about.
What I don’t understand about the novel though is the role played in it by Johnson’s dictionary, who is quoted at the start of every chapter. The girls, in their early youth, had a fascination with words, and even developed their own secret language. They’re finally given a copy of a dictionary by their father, leaving it jointly to them after his death. By then, the twins are no longer on speaking terms and they have to find a way out for this. But Johnson was neither a grammarican nor a prescriptive handbook writer like Fowler, whose views on language do play more of a role in the novel. Perhaps my real (and actually only) problem with the book is its title: grammarians is what neither of the girls are. Would The Poet and the Prescriptivist have been a better title? Even then, Johnson’s dictionary hardly seems to fit in.
Great news: my book will be out in two weeks time. 23 October is the official publication date. I can’t wait! To be published by Routledge, and copies can be pre-ordered there, in hardback and as an e-book.
Another interesting article from the UK Guardian on which pronouns people who identify as non-binary would like others to use to refer to them. Apart from it being a possible language/usage change in progress, it also addresses the issue of who directs change.